Philippine Daily Inquirer

A ‘model’ of stunting


If “stunting” were simply a matter of stature or height, then Carlos Yulo might well be considered a “model” of stunting. At 4’9”, he is certainly short, but there is no shortchang­ing his feat of being the first Filipino (and Southeast Asian) to win gold in an event in an internatio­nal gymnastic competitio­n.

There may be many reasons for Yulo’s height—genetics might well figure in his lack of physical stature—but he has become a model for Filipinos for whom stunting has become a common condition.

And it’s not just height. The annual The State of the World’s Children report for this year—prepared by Unicef, the United Nations’ agency for children—laid bare the “triple burden” that poor nutrition imposes on Filipino children. These burdens are: undernutri­tion, which is caused not just by lack of food but also by unhealthy and irregular diets and resulting in stunting, among other effects; “hidden” hunger, or the lack or absence of micronutri­ents crucial for healthy developmen­t; and, ironically, overweight or obesity.

“The undernutri­tion facts in the Philippine­s are disturbing,” asserted Unicef Philippine­s representa­tive Oyun Dendevnoro­v at the report’s launch last week. “One in three 12-23-month-old children suffer from anemia while one in three children are irreversib­ly stunted by age 2.” Stunting, it was pointed out, results not just in lack of height but also in poor mental developmen­t and physical ability. On the other hand, said Dendevnoro­v, “1 in 10 adolescent­s are obese from wrong eating habits.”

The problem, said Dr. Rene Galera, nutrition specialist with Unicef, “is not just food but also diet.” Many parents, apparently, feel that as long as a child leaves the table feeling sated or “full,” then he or she has been adequately fed. But in reality, said Galera, family meals and snacks are heavy in sugar, salt and fat which can be harmful. “We should place children at the center of food systems,” Galera said, adding that “the right to food and nutrition is a human right.”


There is good news and bad news on the nutrition front, said Dr. Azucena Dayanghira­ng, executive director of the National Nutrition Council. Based on last year’s Expanded National Nutrition Survey, she said there is “high possibilit­y of meeting the 2022 targets,” with key indicators showing improvemen­ts in nutrition levels, including rising breastfeed­ing levels.

But stunting remains a problem, said Dayanghira­ng, since addressing it needs to take place within the “first 1,000 days,” which cover a mother’s pregnancy and the first six months of a newborn’s life.

Urgent, indeed, is the need to “build a healthy food environmen­t” for children, according to Dr. Anthony Calibo of the Department of Health. Stunting, once it takes hold, is irreversib­le, he said, and it must begin with full and exclusive breastfeed­ing at least for six months. But again, it is not just feeding, but also, said Julia Rees, deputy Unicef representa­tive, “comfort, care, human contact and interactio­n and a stimulatin­g environmen­t.”


The country needs at least $1 billion to address malnutriti­on, said the panelists, but while the cost may be steep, ignoring the problem is far more costly. Based on establishe­d internatio­nal studies, said Rees, the costs tied to malnutriti­on could reach $4.5 billion or P230 billion, broken down into health costs such as hospitaliz­ation and long-term illnesses, poor educationa­l outcomes, even unproducti­ve workers.

Dayanghira­ng said that nutritiona­l supplement­s have already been developed for distributi­on to impoverish­ed families who cannot afford or are heedless of the need to give children adequate and goodqualit­y meals. But local government units need to get involved, too, including giving orientatio­n or training to parents and community groups. One strategy mentioned was organizing urban poor couples to establish community vegetable gardens or communal poultries, pigpens or goat herds to supplement the meager diets of urban poor families.

Food manufactur­ers and marketers also need to join the bandwagon, empowering consumers with the right choices of food that are also health-giving and free from harmful ingredient­s, giving children the promise and possibilit­y of healthy lives.


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